School food workers find a winning recipe

Posted 9/15/19

OKEECHOBEE — The food service staff of the Okeechobee County School District were front and center at the Sept. 10 Okeechobee County School Board meeting.Superintendent of Schools Ken Kenworthy …

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School food workers find a winning recipe


OKEECHOBEE — The food service staff of the Okeechobee County School District were front and center at the Sept. 10 Okeechobee County School Board meeting.

Superintendent of Schools Ken Kenworthy spoke about the massive turnaround the department has accomplished in the past few years.

Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion
School staff who worked at the South Elementary shelter are recognized at the Sept. 10 school board meeting.

“You may not know it, but a couple of years ago we were actually funding the food service department out of our general account,” Mr. Kenworthy began. “And that’s kind of unheard of. So we actually thought about maybe privatizing our food service. Some of our employees got together and spoke to the school board and asked for a chance to turn things around, and by golly, they did. A few years ago food service was operating at a deficit, and we are now operating at close to a $800,000 surplus.”

Mr. Kenworthy said a big portion of that financial turnaround is due to the work and suggestions of food service employees and managers. Employees suggested menu changes and a variety of expense-cutting measures.

Supervisor of Food Services Lisa Bell gave credit to her staff for their work in making sure taxpayers money wasn’t wasted.

Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion
Administrators with the Okeechobee County School District also sacrifice time away from their families to help keep local shelters running.

“The biggest part of our budget hit is our labor and inventory,” explained Mrs. Bell. “So one of the big focuses we had in the last year was our inventory. We had a plan that was very strict on what the ending inventory should be, and six of our schools met that goal. The community eligibility provision made a dramatic impact on our bottom line. But $365,000 of that surplus had nothing to do with that provision. It had everything to do with what this group and the rest of their staff does day in and day out. And I just want to say we appreciate the school district and school board for supporting us when we were a sinking ship. Now we’re on course and we plan to stay there.”

Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion
Workers from Animal Control in Okeechobee County were recognized by the school board for their help in making South Elementary a pet-friendly shelter.

The food service staff in attendance weren’t done being recognized for their work, though. They were one of the groups thanked by board members for their work in running the shelters in Okeechobee as Hurricane Dorian hovered off the Florida coast.

“It’s nice to sit at home and watch The Weather Channel on your couch,” said Mr. Kenworthy. “But these people gave up being at home with their family in what could have been a very dangerous time. That is the gift of service, and that is what these individuals did, so I thank you.”

Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion
A large contingent of the Okeechobee County School District food service staff is recognized at the Sept. 10 school board meeting for turning the department around financially in the past few years.

School administrators, custodial staff and food service staff worked together with the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office, Okeechobee Police Department and Animal Control to man shelters at South Elementary and the Okeechobee Public Works building. Animal Control staff were on site to help South Elementary operate as a pet-friendly shelter.

“This is something new and something we very much needed here in Okeechobee,” said Okeechobee Sheriff Noel E. Stephen. “A lot of people won’t leave their home unless there is a place for their pet. I’m very proud of my staff. They stayed at the shelter and obligated themselves. They fulfilled that obligation of leaving their families and coming out to take care of the pets of those people who were at the shelter.”